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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Cameron Browne
The Miami HEAT face the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night at Moda Center. The HEAT fell to the Trail Blazers 110-93 in their last meeting on April 2. Tip-off is set for 10:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 9:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: How did Miami pull off such an impressive victory in Utah, on the second night of a back-to-back?
Couper Moorhead: There were contributions all across the board in what was Miami’s most impressive win of the season. Wayne Ellington couldn’t miss for the second night in a row, James Johnson was a bulldozer getting to the rim and locking up on the defensive end and everyone else chipped in to help make responsive runs to every Utah burst. But this game was about Goran Dragic coming out of the gates attacking the rim relentlessly and constantly keeping the defense on its toes. That he hit a pair of late threes to keep Miami ahead certainly helped, but the shooting is just the icing on the cake. When Dragic is playing like this, and shooters are hitting off his creation, it looks like an offense that has been fully actualized.
Joe Beguiristain: Sheer effort. Despite having just nine available players once Luke Babbitt exited the game, Miami gutted it out and made big plays down the stretch to secure the win. No player was perhaps more impactful than James Johnson, who scored 14 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists after halftime. He also forced Gordon Hayward to double-clutch and ultimately miss what would have been the game-winning jumper. While we’ve seen Johnson have impressive spurts throughout the year, this was easily his most complete performance.
Of course, I’d be remiss without also mentioning Goran Dragić, who scored 14 points in the fourth quarter. Thanks to both he and Johnson, Miami scored 64 points in the paint against one of the best defensive teams in the league. That’s something to be proud of.
2: What’s different about Portland’s roster this season and what sort of start are they off to?
Couper: After a successful year last season with a relatively young group, Portland had some money to spend during the offseason. With flexibility in hand, they retained Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard and then signed both Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. So it’s not a vastly different roster, but it could have been given how much was up in the air during the summer.
As for their start, it’s been up and down so far. With Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum leading perimeter heavy offense, the Blazers have locked in a legitimate Top 10 offense that has almost underachieved at times with how the bench has struggled to incorporate the newer pieces and lineups. But for as good as the offense has been, the defense has been about the opposite as it currently sits as the worst in the league. With Al-Farouq Aminu missing a chunk of time and Portland allowing the second-highest three-point percentage in the league that ranking might be a little flukey, but Portland still allows teams to get into the paint with regularity.
Joe: As Coup said above, Portland’s roster hasn’t changed all that much since the team re-signed a bunch of guys. However, they did bring in Festus Ezeli (who is currently rehabbing from knee surgery), Evan Turner and former HEAT player Shabazz Napier. Turner has provided a spark off the bench for the Trail Blazers, as he’s averaging 13.7 points, 3.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game on 52.4 percent shooting in his last six. The 28-year-old has been doing the majority of his damage in the paint and restricted area, so Miami will have to contain him off the dribble.
Overall, Portland hasn’t started off as quickly as it probably wanted to. While they’ve won two of their last three, the team is currently 10-10. A lot of that has to do with their defense, which ranks last in the league in terms of efficiency. That said, the Trail Blazers have one of the best offenses in the league thanks to the dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. As usual, those guys will be a handful to contain.
3: What sort of matchup issues could there be for both sides Saturday night?
Couper: The Dragic-Hassan Whiteside combination could be a tough one for a Portland team that doesn’t have elite defenders at either position and with the Blazers not being a particularly strong defensive rebounding unit so far and Whiteside’s size advantage in the middle, there should be plenty of opportunities on the offensive glass.
But Portland is a good offense for a reason. Both Lillard and McCollum can shoot from anywhere but can do it off the dribble, which means any and every screen set for them is a potential shot. Last season’s Portland game in Miami was one of Whiteside’s bigger challenges of the year as he was forced to step out and defend on the perimeter. And if Portland plays Meyers Leonard, a strong shooter, at the same time there will be even more ground for Whiteside to cover and manage. But it’s not all on Miami’s center. Miami will have to be disciplined in their help on to shooters – something Portland doesn’t make easy given their emphasis on spacing.
Joe: For the HEAT, they need to try and limit Lillard and McCollum as much as possible. The two guards provide a unique challenge since both can run the pick-and-roll well. In fact, Lillard is among the league’s elite with 1.06 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball handler. McCollum isn’t ranked quite as high, but his shooting splits are pretty solid. The majority of his shots this season have come from mid-range, where he is shooting 49-of-104 (47.1 percent).
On the flip side of things, Portland could have some trouble stopping Miami from getting into the paint. The HEAT have just been in attack mode of late, averaging 58 points in the paint over their last three. Of course, with Dragić attacking the basket and getting to the rim at will, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Winning at Moda Center is no easy feat, but we’ll see if Miami can cap off an already successful road trip with yet another victory.
April 2-HEAT at Trail Blazers
The HEAT have won two straight and stand at 7-12. The Trail Blazers have won two of three and are 10-10 thus far. Miami and Portland split the season-series a year ago, with each team winning on its home floor. Since returning from injury, Goran Dragić is averaging 23.3 points and 10.0 assists per game on 45.3 percent shooting.
HEAT Offense: 100.5 (25) HEAT Defense: 102.1 (10) Trail Blazers Offense: 108.0 (7) Trail Blazers Defense: 110.4 (30)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Melissa Majchrzak
The Miami HEAT face the Utah Jazz Thursday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The HEAT fell to the Jazz 102-91 in their last meeting on November 12. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 8:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: How did Miami pull out the road win in Denver and how much of it could carry over to Thursday night?
Couper Moorhead: This was one of those nights where all sorts of positive things came together to help Miami start its road trip off on the right foot. First, let’s start with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside continuing their aggressive play from the second half against Boston earlier this week. Dragic was getting by his man and into the paint with relative ease for most of the night, which had the predictable results on Miami’s half-court offense, while Whiteside got hot with the hook – yes, you can get hot from ten feet – as he was dropping shots in after a variety of spin moves. But beyond Whiteside’s sheer scoring, it was also nice to see the team recognize whenever Denver had the smaller Kenneth Faried on him, and then execute to get Whiteside the ball near the rim.
On top of Miami’s scoring engines, the HEAT also benefitted from Wayne Ellington, back from injury, having one of those games he’ll have over the course of the season that can just about carry you to a win. While Miami has shooters, Ellington is of a slightly different brand in that he can catch and release so quickly – which leads to those transition threes he hit on Wednesday night. And finally, Miami had 14 steals which led to a ton of open floor runouts that kept the numbers going on the board.
Joe Beguiristain: The HEAT’s victory over the Nuggets was one of their best all-around efforts of the season. On the offensive end, Miami received contributions from pretty much everybody, as six guys scored in double-figures. In particular, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragić got the team started off on the right foot in the first quarter. As a whole, Dragić relentlessly attacked the rim and did the bulk of his damage in the paint. Whiteside, meanwhile, showed good footwork in the post early and often against Denver’s slew of big men. Let’s also not forget Wayne Ellington, who totaled 22 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
On the flip side of the ball, the HEAT forced the Nuggets to commit a bunch of turnovers and really zeroed-in during crunch time. In all, Miami scored 28 points off Denver’s 19 turnovers, and held the team to just 41.8 percent shooting. Ellington created a bunch of transition opportunities for the HEAT with four steals on the night.
In terms of all this carrying over into Thursday night against the Jazz, that’ll be tough given that it is a back-to-back. As long as Miami continues to communicate on the defensive end and move the ball well on the flip side of the ball (the team tallied 26 assists against Denver), all should be fine.
2: What did we learn about the matchup with Utah the first time around?
Couper: That they’re a tough, tough team. Utah, for the second consecutive year, is dealing with some injuries (Derrick Favors will not play) and hasn’t had much in the way of a consistent rotation, but this is still one of the most elite, tough defenses around. There aren’t many challenges in the league more difficult than trying to score on Utah on the second night of a back-to-back.
But in that first game, an 11-point loss for Miami, we also saw an expanded offensive repertoire from the Utah we’ve come to know over the past few years. Gordon Hayward can go out and get baskets on his own when necessary, but Rodney Hood has evolved into a high-volume shooter off the dribble and Joe Johnson gives Utah another option for relief offense off the bench. Coupled with someone who we’ll discuss in a moment, Utah is now pulling out a Top-10 offense. Analysts have been expecting a leap from this group and, health provided, it could be happening this year.
Joe: In that last matchup, the HEAT were without Dragić and lost by 11 points. That said, both James Johnson and Derrick Williams did some damage at the four spot for Miami.
Otherwise, we learned that the Jazz are still dangerous even without George Hill or Derrick Favors, who played just six minutes against the HEAT. Gordon Hayward is still the go-to guy for Utah, as he can slash to the hoop and draw contact with the best of them. In that last meeting with Miami on November 12, the 26-year-old nearly notched a double-double with 25 points and nine boards. The HEAT limited Hayward to just five free-throw attempts, but he showed a quick first step and got into the paint often. He’ll certainly be tough to contain on Thursday night.
Otherwise, Miami has to be wary of Rudy Gobert inside. The Frenchman defended Whiteside pretty well in that last game and stood his ground. However, the former Marshall standout got going in the fourth quarter as the HEAT were mounting a comeback. We’ll see how it all pans out this time around.
3: How will George Hill being back in the lineup affect this game?
Couper: Hill sat out that first game but he’s one of the key new additions of this season, at least in the non-Kevin Durant division. Here’s pretty much all you need to know about Hill: when he and Gordon Hayward are on the floor, the Jazz have scored 122 points per 100 possessions and give up just 97.7. That’s an elite pair. While Hill is a strong shooter at the point guard position that spaces the floor for Hayward, he’s also a long, athletic defender who spearheads Utah’s defense and ensures that if the ball approaches Rudy Gobert in the backline, it does not to do so easily.
Joe: Ever since Hill returned to the lineup on November 23, the Jazz haven’t lost. That’s likely because he owns the highest net rating on the team among regular rotation players (plus-14.3) and is one of the best two-way guards in the league. Not to mention, his veteran leadership is something Utah hasn’t had at the point guard spot in years.
In short, Hill will likely make things difficult for Miami on both ends. He is deadly on the pick-and-roll and is a very stout on-ball defender. It'll be fun to see how Dragić handles the tough matchup.
*The Jazz announced on Thursday morning that George Hill will not play due to a sprained left big toe.
November 12-Jazz at HEAT
January 9-HEAT at Jazz
The HEAT are 6-12, while the Jazz enter the contest at 11-8 after winning four straight. This matchup ties the earliest date that Miami and Utah will finish the season-series, with the last time coming in the ’00-’01 season. Hassan Whiteside leads the HEAT in points (17.7), rebounds (15.1) and blocks (2.6) per contest. Gordon Hayward leads the Jazz in scoring at 21.4 points per game.
HEAT Offense: 99.2 (27) HEAT Defense: 100.9 (4) Jazz Offense: 106.3 (9) Jazz Defense: 99.6 (3)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Garrett Ellwood
The Miami HEAT face the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night at Pepsi Center. The HEAT defeated the Nuggets 124-119 in their last meeting on March 14. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 8:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: There was a lot of talk about getting the defense back on track after the loss to Boston, so how can the team do it?
Couper Moorhead: We can start by saying the team is not in a particularly advantageous position with regard to self-correction because they haven’t had a stable rotation for weeks. It’s always tough to get back to what you’ve been doing when the context around what you were doing is now longer stable.
All that said, very few teams stay healthy for the duration of the season. At some point it is on the players who are playing to get back to doing what this team does best – whether its against a slow, grind-it-out Memphis offense of a spread-everything Boston team. The challenge at the moment will be finding that stout defense, complete with disciplined rotations and strong rebounding, with one of the toughest environmental back-to-backs possible in Denver and Utah, plus a 4-in-5 stretch coming up soon after that.
Joe Beguiristain: As Coup alluded to above, things have been tough recently on the defensive end with so many guys in and out of the lineup. At the current moment, Miami is still a top-ten defense, but the team’s defensive rating has been steadily increasing. Of course, not having Justise Winslow, one of the best defenders on the squad, plays a part in that.
It may sound simple, but the HEAT just need to communicate better when there are screens and other actions designed to get them disoriented. If the team can rotate quickly and funnel the opposition’s attackers to Hassan Whiteside, things would look better. That’s obviously easier said than done, given that a lot of teams are going at Whiteside in the pick-and-roll to get him out of the paint. As long as the big fella remains disciplined and can get back quickly, all should be fine.
2: What’s changed with Denver’s roster and how has their season started?
Couper: Denver is actually fairly similar to what they were last year, though they added Jamal Murray and Juan Hernangomez in the draft and essentially re-added Jusuf Nurkic with his return from injury. So, this remains a team deep on talent that is still, with a 7-10 record, trying to put all the pieces together. The sometimes-explosive offense, ranked 17, has been there more often than not, but it’s the defense (21st) that has held things back so far.
That depth has also given coach Mike Malone a bit of a challenge. While the team has dealt with some injuries, there are so many players on this team capable of contributing that there hasn’t always been a clear set rotation. This has manifested itself in a changing starting lineup, as Nurkic and Nikola Jokic opening the season starting alongside one another but since then Kenneth Faried has also started eight games. It’s a good problem for Denver the have, but there’s still much to sort out this season.
Fortunately, through the changing lineups, Wilson Chandler is having a career year.
Joe: Not much has changed to Denver’s roster outside of the team adding a few guys in the draft. The Nuggets had three first-round picks and used them on Jamal Murray (seventh overall), Juan Hernangómez (15th overall) and Malik Beasley (19th overall). Of the trio, Murray has received the most playing time with Gary Harris out with a right foot sprain and Will Barton in and out of the lineup due to a left ankle injury.
Luckily enough for the Nuggets, Murray has answered the call and played quite well. While his shooting percentage has dipped a bit as of late, the 19-year-old is averaging 18.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game on 48.4 percent shooting in his last five.
All that has led to Denver winning three of its last five, including an impressive victory over the Bulls on November 22. While the Nuggets have struggled a bit on the defensive end, their offense will certainly give them a chance to win games.
3: What sort of matchup problems could the Nuggets present?
Couper: We’ve already discussed their mass of talent, which means the attacks could come from all angles especially if Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton return from injury. But it’s Denver’s frontline options that should present a challenge as Nurkic is a strong, rugged player who can make his presence known in the paint, Jokic possesses an abundance of skills and is capable of doing just about anything with the ball and Kenneth Faried is still a ball of energy who can take teams by surprise if they aren’t on point with loose balls.
In other words, Denver has three very different looks to throw at Hassan Whiteside and it will be up to the team to help him adjust to each one.
Joe: One guy I haven’t mentioned yet is Wilson Chandler, who has just been lights-out this season. The oft-injured forward was healthy for most of last season, as he appeared in 78 games. Thanks to that, he’s currently playing some of the best ball of his career. In fact, Chandler is averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 47.1 percent shooting.
The versatile 29-year-old has been attacking the rim with purpose and getting to the charity stripe more consistently. In addition to that, he’s shooting 37.8 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Although he’s primarily come off the bench for the Nuggets, Chandler has started the past two games with Danilo Gallinari out. In short, Miami has to try and keep him off the glass and limit his effectiveness off the dribble. It’ll be fun to watch James Johnson or possibly even Rodney McGruder go toe-to-toe with Denver’s hottest player.
March 14-Nuggets at HEAT
January 15-HEAT at Nuggets
The HEAT are 5-12, while the Nuggets stand at 7-10. Miami has won three straight against Denver. Both Justise Winslow (sore left wrist) and Dion Waiters (strained right groin) did not travel with the team on its three-game road trip.
HEAT Offense: 98.8 (27) HEAT Defense: 101.4 (7) Nuggets Offense: 102.5 (18) Nuggets Defense: 105.6 (21)